Tag Archives: history

The Problem With Cairns

In Iceland, the major architectural monuments from the past are also way-finding cairns of stones passing across inhospitable terrain. They were essential for commerce and the maintaining of a low technology culture in a harsh environment. They are now essential links to the past, as important to Icelanders as, say, the pyramids in Egypt or the Strasbourg Cathedral in France. In other words, they led somewhere, and still lead somewhere important, even as people continue to try to read them.

Aimlessness at Þingvellirvatn

Unfortunately, many contemporary visitors to Iceland, being humans and liking to make their own presence into lasting magical gestures, a signature of their kind, obscure the landscapes with their mark-making. Please don’t. It’s ugly and aimless. They don’t let you do it in Paris. Respect goes a long way towards creating beauty.

Iceland Old and New

The lush fields of Iceland are created by nitrate fertilizer. This is the new Iceland. It’s not prosperous. Look how it relies on old buildings in disrepair, or ignores them completely. That is the reality of survival when most everyone has gone to the city, yet still needs to eat from the land. In the image below, you can see, perhaps, the buildings of the post-war years tucked behind a hill, the old house field, the tun, that kept the farm alive in the foreground, beneath the oil tanks, and the new, industrialized fields int he distance. The old is still here.Here in the far north, the progression is even more clear: driftwood from Norway or Russia, an old turf house, the tun gone yellow with wild flowers in front of the slope where the old house once stood, a rusted oil tank, and an old fish-drying shed. The new, industrial fields are in the upper right. It’s cold here on the Greenland Sea.The pattern is repeated everywhere, as it is here at Kirkjubærjarklaustur: new barn, old barn, new industrial fields, the tun plowed over, but a gate from the 1970s, and that Siberian driftwood once again.If the Icelanders are saying their country is prospering, don’t say no. They want to stay a part of the world. It’s hard to do so. The land, however, is crying.


The Beauty and The Ugliness of The Icelandic North

Even in Iceland, beauty is elusive. These hot springs and sulfur vents near Myvatn were mined by the Danes for sulfur. They are now a tourist site.They are, in fact, mine tailings. Only a tiny fraction of the sulfur remains. It’s still beautiful, though.

Nature, though, it is not. The Icelanders know this. You should know it too.

This is politics writ large.